Northern Ireland - Round The World Tour 2 2003 Day 185

Monkstown

Saturday 13th September

We didn’t realise it when we awoke this morning that today was going to be the last full day in Ireland. I’ll reflect on the past three or four weeks after I summarise the day’s events.

On reflection, the camp-site we stayed in last night was very mediocre and not really worth the £12 we paid for the privilege. The fact that the weather was poor and we were lashed violently all night by the winds didn’t help but there really weren’t very many redeeming features either. Accordingly, we were both glad to be on our way this morning to follow the northern coast road towards the Giant’s Causeway.

We didn’t waste much time getting there. Being the only World Heritage site anywhere on the island of Ireland, this was certainly one place that we were not going to miss whilst here. Somewhat predictably, the cost of just getting into the car park was an extortionate £5. Once the parking attendant made this clear to us, we did an immediate about face and parked a few metres away in one of the nearby lanes. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, its extortionate and unnecessary greed in these situations.

Having finally gotten over the sticker shock of the car park fees and otherwise found a place to park, we walked into the TIC (Tourist Information Centre). Other than the usual cheap and tacky tourist junk on sale, there didn’t seem anything else there of interest and so we walked down the pathway towards the geological feature that we came to see. The Giant’s Causeway is a wonder to behold and an extremely strange and seemingly unnatural place. The molten lava that flowed here all those aeons ago apparently cooled quite evenly and this is what was responsible for the even shrinking of the rock, thus causing the cracks to form in fairly even hexagonal forms. These cracks travelled down through the rock in near complete vertical lines and the result is what appears to be hexagonal steps that protrude out of the ground. Each step is approximately thirty to forty centimetres in diameter and has eroded at a slightly different pace from the neighbouring steps. The result is a labyrinth of steps that you can walk all over quite comfortably.

If not for the wind and my failing health, we would have stayed longer but decided instead to catch the bus back to the top of the hill. Once there, we watched an audio-visual presentation of the geology and mythology of the immediate and surrounding areas. Legend has it, apparently, that a giant who lived in Ireland constructed the Causeway from Ireland to Scotland for the benefit of inviting over another giant, who lived in Scotland, for a duel. When the Irish giant realised that the Scottish giant was much bigger than he, he became afraid of being slain by the Scot and thus had his wife disguise him as a baby in a crib. When the Scot finally arrived and saw the huge size of the Irish baby, he fled back to Scotland fearing the size of the father and destroyed the Causeway that linked the two countries on the way. The remains of the Causeway steps can still be seen today on both the Irish and Scottish sides of the sea. Somehow, I fancy the molten lava theory a tad more than the giant theory.

We continued on from the Giant’s Causeway along the northern coastline. The natural geology of this rugged and extremely beautiful coast is breath-taking and possibly the most awe inspiring and scenic route that we’ve seen anywhere here in Europe – although it must be said that there is still plenty of Europe for us left to explore. Although still quite blustery, we could clearly see some of the ragged coastline of Scotland out over the horizon.

We made a couple of scenic stops along the drive during the afternoon including a brief visit to the ruins of Bonamargy Friary. There were probably many more places that we could have stopped at but we both felt that the four weeks that we’ve spent on this island so far is starting to feel like enough. Accordingly, we rang the ferry reservations number listed in our guidebook and booked passage to Scotland on one of tomorrow afternoon’s sailings. We leave from Belfast at just after five in the afternoon. We took advantage of one of their specials that was on offer and cashed in our accumulated bonus points as a result of the previous ferry crossings that we’ve been on this year to date. The resulting £51 for the one-way journey seemed like a very good deal indeed.

Our guidebook indicated a camp-site just North of Belfast and so we headed in its direction with the intention of spending some time in Belfast tomorrow before we sail away to a new adventure. Along the way, we stopped and spent a little time exploring Carrickfergus Castle. This will surely be the last castle that we visit before leaving Ireland.

Characteristically, we got lost on the way to the camp-site. Actually, a more accurate description would be that we missed it a couple of times. It is by far the smallest camp-site I’ve ever seen with just enough space for about six caravans or camper-vans. It’s actually a really nice place just a few yards off from the main A2 arterial coast road, encompassed by a large fence and tall trees all the way around. You really do have to go out of your way to find it. Other than being small, it’s really a nice camp-site with a good shower and toilet block, electrical hook-up, water and a safe, secure, haven. At just £10 for the night (including electricity and free showers), it’s very good value also.

Since tonight is going to be our last night in Ireland (unless we somehow miss the ferry tomorrow afternoon), perhaps I should spend a little time reflecting on the past twenty-three days and nights. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve enjoyed Ireland. I find I keep trying to want to compare our experience here with that or Africa and the Middle East but that’s probably not a fair comparison. So, what have been the highlights? I can’t speak for Sandy (she’s asleep right now) but here are mine:

- Exploring all the castles during the first week of being here

- Kissing the Blarney stone

- Searching for and eventually finding traditional Irish music in the pubs on the West coast

- The medieval banquet at Bunratty

- Dublin and the book of Kells

- Some of the finest museums I’ve ever encountered scattered around the country

- Londonderry and the content I felt at seeing the city as a peaceful and pleasant place to be against the backdrop of my image of the place as violent and turbulent

- Giant’s Causeway

- The completely unexpected surprise of Northern Ireland being nothing like I imagined and the beauty of its northern coast in particular

Its difficult to choose a winner from the above list as each experience has touched me in different ways. Perhaps I will be able to do so in the weeks and months ahead after having had some time to allow the experiences to sink in a bit more.

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